Sunday, January 21, 2007

21 arrested in toll protest (Malaysiakini)

21 arrested in toll protest
Jan 21, 07 5:41pm (Malaysiakini)

After watching the anti-toll hike protest from the sidelines for the past two weeks, the police today did the reverse - arresting 21 demonstrators even before the protest had started.

Among those arrested were protest leaders including Parti Keadilan Rakyat Information chief Tian Chua, PAS leader Dr Hatta Ramli and DAP leader Ronnie Liu.

The demonstration in Cheras today was organised by anti-toll hike organisation Protes - a coalition of opposition parties, civil society groups, trade unions and student groups, in which Hatta is the movement's secretary.

The arrested protestors have been taken to the Kajang police headquarters.

Four protestors, including Tian Chua, were hurt in the melee with the police and had been taken to the hospital for treatment.

All the protestors held at the police station were released at about 9.30pm on police bail and have been asked to report to the Kajang magistrate's court on Feb 5.

Crowd in front of station

Earlier, DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng, who met with the police officials, told the media that he was given the assurance that the protestors would be released soon.

"They said that they will release the protestors after taking statements from them," he said.

A crowd of about 50 people has also gathered in front of the Kajang police station, waiting for the release of the protestors.

The protest today in Cheras in Kuala Lumpur was the third in the series of protests organised by the coalition to oppose the hike in the toll rates at five Klang Valley highways beginning Jan 1.

In the earlier two protests - the first at the Sunway City toll plaza along the LDP highway two Sundays ago and the second in Gombak last Sunday - the police force was widely commended for allowing the peaceful protests to proceed peacefully.

However, it was a different story today.

Shocked and surprised

Just as the protestors - numbering less than 100 - were gathering at two places at the Cheras Batu 11 toll plaza at about 4pm today to show their displeasure against the hefty toll hike, the police issued them a warning to disperse.

Kajang police chief ACP Rosli Mohd Nizam told the crowd to disperse as it was an illegal assembly.

In one of the spots - near a concrete road barrier closing an alternate route which bypass the Cheras-Kajang highway toll - about 30 would-be protestors led by PKR leader Lee Kim Sin had gathered. The concrete barrier forces residents in the area to use the toll highway.

However, some of them left the scene after the police warnings of dispersals.

Later, about 40 others led by Bandar Mahkota Cheras Free Access Road Action Committee president Tan Boon Hwa came to the area with banners and flags.

They were given five minutes to disperse, but the police started arresting the protestors in about three minutes.

Tan (photo) and a few others put up a struggle, but eventually six at the concrete road barrier - including Lee Kim Sin - were arrested. There were about 80 police officers on the scene.

In all, the police arrested 21 protestors in both the spots - the second spot being the rest area near the toll plaza. Both the regular police force and the anti-riot Federal Reserve Unit were involved in dispersing the crowd.

Surprised and shocked by the harsh police action, the rest of the protestors slowly begin to disperse from the protest venues.

A malaysiakini journalist was also held by the police. He was not officially detained but his camera was seized. He too was also taken to the Kajang police station.

“I have not been detained but they are keeping me here. I can walk around and make phone calls,” said journalist Andrew Ong using his mobile phone.

He has been told that the police were awaiting orders from the Kajang police chief. He said that the police wanted to see the photographs he took of the protest.

He was later released with his camera after about two hours from the Kajang police station.

Sharp rise

Beginning Jan 1, the toll rates for five major highways in the Klang Valley increased between 20 to 60 percent.

Lebuhraya Damansara-Puchong (LDP) saw the highest rise with its toll rising from RM1 to RM1.60 while the Kuala Lumpur-Karak Highway's Gombak toll is now at RM5, an increase of RM1. The highway's Bentong toll was increased by 50 sen to RM3.

The other affected highways are Shah Alam Highway, Cheras-Kajang Highway and the Guthrie Corridor Expressway.

The hikes have drawn strong reaction from various groups including component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

The protest in Sunway City was the most notable thus far which drew thousands of participants from all walks of life in denouncing the drastic hikes in toll charges.

[photographs by Andrew Ong]

No comments: